Regional Collaboration to Address Climate Change

By Vositha Wijenayake

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report has expressed that  majority of climate change has been created by human induced causes, that impacts are already felt, and if we do not take actions fast, we are heading for a bleak future. However despite the adverse effects that we are facing the Report also highlights that it is not impossible to keep the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. In order to achieve this we need ambitious mitigation actions. 1.5 degrees Celsius is also still achievable, but would need much more committed efforts on the mitigation front from countries. In order to address climate change in South Asia, we need to ensure that the countries are committed towards working together, in collaboration. This makes the upcoming SAARC Summit one of the key events to ensure that the region addresses the issue of climate change in an effective manner.

Stakeholders Mobilise for Kathmandu SAARC Summit

The 18th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) Summit will be held in Kathmandu on the 26-27 November 2014 on the theme “Deeper Integration for Peace, Progress and Prosperity”. The  Summit is expected to address many important regional concerns such as agriculture, climate change, food security, disaster management, regional trade, investment and energy cooperation.

Prior to the SAARC Summit, with the intention of enhancing the discussion on the key themes of focus at the Summit, Oxfam in collaboration with South Asia Watch on Trade Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC), Clean Energy Nepal (CEN) and Nepalese Youth for Climate Action (NYCA) organised a regional policy workshop titled “ South Asia Policy Workshops” with multi-stakeholder participation. In addition to CSO members, the workshop saw the participation of Tuladhar Member of Constituent Assembly and Member of Parliament of Nepal, Dr. Karim Khawaja, Senator of Pakistan, Advocate Fazle Mia, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Bangladesh, Mr Koirala, Joint Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nepal and Dr Adhikari, Joint Secretary to the Ministry of Agricultural Development of Nepal.

Negotiating Climate Change

SAARC is unique as a region. Its countries fall under different political and negotiating blocks in the UNFCCC process: India as a BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), Maldives as AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States), Sri Lanka and Pakistan as LMDC (Like Minded Developing Countries), Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh as LDCs (Least Developed Countries).

With the year 2015 being crucial for climate change negotiations (as well as disaster risk reduction Hyogo Framework for Action, Sustainable Development Goals) hope for a new agreement being drafted to bind all countries to take ambitious actions to address climate change becomes pivotal. Protection of country interest when making commitments on emissions should not hamper the development and the safety of the region.

“2015 is a crucial year for not only climate change, but also for disaster risk reduction, as well as SDGs. The whole development paradigm will change, and the focus will mark national and regional action. If SAARC does not negotiate for the benefit of its people, then we will be in trouble,” said Sunil Acharya, Programme Director of Clean Energy Nepal.

SAARC has previously set precedence by making a joint statement to the UNFCCC in 2011 in Durban. However there has not been a common stance for the region on how negotiations should proceed. The negotiating positions that favour the whole region have been side-tracked with country prioritisation taking the lead.

“We have been long confronting this region with the India-Pakistan dynamic. We need to get out of it and formulate a clearly defined position as SAARC on climate change,” said Soumya Dutta of Beyond Copenhagen Network of India.

“There is nothing as a SAARC position. We continue to claim we are the same, but we have failed to understand that unless we collaborate that our individual positions also weaken,” said Ranga Pallawala, Board Member of Climate Action Network South Asia, and CEO of Janathakshan Sri Lanka.

“We as SAARC have a lot of common factors, but we are also one of the most diverse regions on an economic as well as political level. SAARC as a region needs to take climate change in a more serious manner. Probably we are serious as individual countries, but as a region we have not yet worked up to expectations,” he added.

From Plans to Implementation

Another element highlighted during the panel discussions and agreed by many was that SAARC as an entity needs to shift to implementing mode without being backtracked by political history.

“SAARC has very much prioritised climate change in its action plans, at least on paper,” said Sunil Acharya. He based his statement on the many Declarations that have come out of SAARC such as the Thimphu Statement, the Dhaka Declaration which contains the SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change.

“Responding to and collaborating on climate change is merely on papers.  The Thimphu Statement has 16 points of action. However these have not been entirely implemented,” he added.

He also pointed out that the vulnerability of the South Asian region to adverse effects of climate change stress the need to work with regional collaboration, and taking collective measures.

“We agreed to establish a regional expert group on climate change. This was one of the key points of the Thimphu Statement. Few meetings happened, I have not seen the outcomes of the Expert Group reflected in country processes, or in negotiation positions. As a formality we have an Expert Group, but we have not reaped the benefits of its establishment,” expressed Pallawala.

Regional Vision and Regional Cooperation

While addressing climate change is important, one cannot forget the economic development of the region. Among key issues that the region face apart from climate change remain: poverty, inequity, and food security. Issues such as poverty increase the vulnerability of people to adverse effects of climate change, while impacts of climate change adversely increase the food insecurity in the region.

“If we look at the macro level growth, the economic levels are improving in South Asian nations. The region is on its way to reaching the middle income status. However this does not mean that every citizen in the region has the same economic capacity. We see a lot of economic disparity across countries, and the poor of the nations are most vulnerable to climate change,” said Pallawala.

Dr Atiq Rahman, Former Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of CANSA highlighted the need for a common vision for development in South Asia.

“We must have a vision, and it needs to be a joint vision. My vision is one without boarders where everyone is educated, food is secure and housing is not a cause for concern. Do we want to continue in the poverty trap we are in, or take challenges and move to a new option that we are proud to present to our citizens? We have potential, why are not we using it? We need to make decisions and implement them,” he said.

Speaking on development in the region he added, “SAARC needs to meet a low carbon development path.  If we do not address the issue of climate change, then development will not happen. Dealing with climate change and focusing on development cannot be done in isolation. They are two elements that go in parallel. If we ignore the increasing impacts of climate change, any development will be no development,” he concluded.

About The Author:

Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.